Archive for June, 2010

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33 Non-Rock Songs I’d Like To See In Rock Band 3: Part 3 + Scenes

June 30, 2010

Image from rofanator @ Flickr

Here’s part 3 into my working list of hip-hop, R&B, funk, disco, electronic, dance, and pop songs that I would like to see in the Rock Band series. Here are parts 1 and 2!

But first a word about exclusivity and shared experiences.

Now if any of these songs I’ve been listing were to actually go into a Rock Band game, I imagine some people would be kind of upset, that “their” game was being compromised or diluted and that it was no longer “for them.” However, I would argue that these scenesters are depriving themselves of the opportunity for a shared experience. Oftentimes I find that the people I like to hang out with are those with whom I find similar interests or at least something to go beyond small talk. If I can chat with someone about one of my favorite music games, I don’t care if our favorite songs are different. I just like that in this age of splintering interest groups I can find someone to geek out with even if it’s only for a few minutes (at least until I have a kid). We all have to interact with one another and the shared experience or interest can make those interactions a lot easier. Let’s bring others into the tent. We may not all go for the same songs, but we can all play the game.

Note: Chuck Klosterman’s essay on Johnny Carson covers this idea of the common experience in a much better way than I ever could.

Full list after the jump.

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DJ On A Dime: Promises, Promises

June 25, 2010

Image from dr. motte @ Flickr

So 911 may still be a joke, some federal judge makes a ruling that seems as in poor taste as those pro-BP remarks made by Joe Barton, and there’s some nasty sentiment against feeding the homeless afoot in San Diego, but it’s not all craptacular. U.S. Sec. of State Hillary Clinton ups her game campaigning for civil rights abroad while extending benefits for same-sex partners of State Department employees and making the whole passport deal more accessible for transgender people. She seems committed to expanding civil and economic protections and rights to those who don’t have them and she backs up her commitments, which I can’t say for every person in power. I just hope that others will follow her example, because it’s pretty cool.

You know what else is pretty cool? Free music! This is DJ on a Dime.

Fluxblog is another of the mp3 blog old guard. Matt Perpetua (who also writes reviews for Pitchfork) has been running it since 2002, and he’s posted a pretty wide range of material over the years, though lately he seems to lean towards the whole 90% indie rock/10% mainstream pop. I give him props for occasionally posting songs he doesn’t like and offering the download as a chance for his readers to see if they might disagree. He has the new Chemical Brothers song “Snow” up for download, and I’m not sure of his opinion on it. He characterizes the track as “gently levitating through dark clouds of pollution on your way to a cleaner, brighter place in the sky,” which sounds positive, but then I demoed the track for Kathy after reading the review and this was her reaction:

“Is something wrong with your fax machine? How long is this going to go on?”

I tend to be a Chemical Bros. apologist, but that’s due to the goodwill that came from the hard synth lines and awesome rock drumming of their singles. This track is beatless, and while I understand its point, I find its execution wanting. Try it for yourself and see how you’re feeling after a listen.

On the flipside of the indie/mainstream balance we have Pigeons and Planes. P&P is relatively new to the mp3 blog scene, having been in operation for only about 2-3 years, but its posts are prolific, it covers a big chunk of mainstream hip hop and big indie rock, and the guy who runs it just turned 25. It can seem a little shady at times with its leaked tracks and multitude of file hosting sites, but if you want the goods, this is the place to go. One coup of a hookup that’s come through recently is DJ Mick Boogie’s pairing of Rick Ross and Big Boi for a mixtape where they jump on each other’s songs. It’s free and it looks to be a neat blend of southern hip hop. A visit to Boogie’s site shows a fairly eclectic taste from his past mixes. It might a keeper.

That’s all well and good, but what if you want to listen to something new? There’s some hot 80s-flavored dance music over at DISCODUST from the Los Angeles duo Jump Jump Dance Dance, which is both an incredibly inane band name and an incredibly awesome band name. The remixes of the single “Modern Eyes” from Beni and Bit Funk have some pop to them, though I prefer the airiness of the Beni mix – it keeps things carefree. Fun fact: one of the guys in Jump Jump Dance Dance was formerly known as DJ Groove Terminator, whose “How Life Should Be,” because forever linked with Progressive Insurance before they adopted Flo as their spokeswoman. Eh, dude probably made a lot of royalties from those commercials.

Meanwhile, the hits keep on coming from Electrorash. They have this neat dance-rock remix by indie darlings The XX remixed by one of Australia’s up-and-coming DJs Andy Murphy. There’s some great contour in this track – the beats are driving but I still feel as though there’s enough of the original track to make it a highlight. Good use of breakdowns too!

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33 Non-Rock Songs I’d Like To See In Rock Band 3: Part 2 + Peripherals

June 23, 2010

Image from Harmonix

Now we continue into my working list of hip-hop, R&B, funk, disco, electronic, dance, and pop songs that I would like to see in the Rock Band series.

Here’s part 1!

Before we get to the main list, I’d like to write a concern I have about Rock Band 3: peripherals. Now don’t get me wrong: I’m pumped about the keyboard. Because of that instrument expansion I feel like I can write these lists and have them not be mere pipe dreams. Plus it looks like the playing experience will be crazy fun. My concern is in the price and over-featuring of the new instruments. In the push to continuously up their game in the peripheral department and appease the series’ most vocal semi-serious musician fanbase, the new guitar and keyboard peripherals from Mad Catz and Fender appear capable of doing a lot, including doubling as real instruments and midi controllers. While this is cool if you’re into music production or if you are seriously convinced to pick up a real instrument, I feel like this isn’t going to appeal to the silent majority of more casual players, especially a majority with reduced disposable income. I like my instrument controllers to be responsive and last more than 12 months, but I doubt I’ll be getting into serious jamming, and I doubt that I’m the only one of that opinion. I’ll likely snap up RB3 pretty early into its release, but I’ll probably wait awhile until the keyboard drops in price before buying one. That being said, let’s get down to more of what I’d like to see in-game: a little trip-hop, a little g-funk, and of course, the legendary MJ.

The full list is after the jump:

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Beyond Bionic

June 22, 2010

Image from Amazon

Whenever a musician decides to reinvent him/herself stylistically, they can give themselves a new artistic lease on life and possibly increase their fanbase. David Bowie is a master of this practice. However, when an artist does a reinvention, they also run the risk of straying too far from the sound that made them successful in the first place. When U2 incorporated electronic music and crisp pop production into their Zooropa and Pop albums, they made some kickass dance music (Pop is my favorite U2 album), but also alienated many of their longtime fans. They quickly corrected course for their album All You Can’t Leave Behind, and distanced themselves from their electronic experimenting by re-recording those songs for their Best of 1990-2000 and whitewashed away their work of the mid-to-late 90s.

Christina Aguilera has made a career of reinventing herself while maintaining her identity through her cruise missile of a voice and her no-nonsense attitude. Her latest album Bionic continues her history of reinvention. Consistent with the title, the album is part electro dance pop and part clean traditional slow songs, all upholding Aguilera’s themes of sexual empowerment, self-confidence, and emotional honesty. Do the cybernetic upgrades pay off?

Let’s examine the parts. Much like her 2002 album Stripped, Aguilera supplements her talents with the aid of a solid team of collaborators in songwriting, producing, and/or performing. Overall the partners seem good matches. By working with traditionally indie acts, Aguilera allies herself with sounds that one doesn’t hear much on top-40 radio: the driving electro and catchy sloganeering of Le Tigre; the hazy vocals and bleary electronics of M.I.A. and Switch, etc. On the deluxe version of the album, Santigold and Ladytron enter the mix, furthering the album’s indie dance aspects.

I liked that on this album Aguilera didn’t give in to the temptation of going “cannon, cannon, cannon,” with her vocal performances. She knows when to back off or at least when she wants to back off. If she did an entire album of vocal acrobatics, she’d come across like Celine Dion and the end product would be one long held note. It would be boring for both the audience and I imagine the artist. Sometimes Aguilera alters her vocal style to blend into a song and give more attention to the music, the lyrics, or the performances of her guests. She may be a diva, but she is also gracious host.

This is very apparent on the dance tracks, which I really got into. Switch expands on the style he made with M.I.A. for Kala on “Elastic Love” and the title track. The music is very catchy in that off-kilter way, and Christina does a great M.I.A. impression, sometimes too well. The same could be said for the tracks from Polow da Don, whom you may know as the guy who produced Fergie’s “London Bridge,” Chris Brown’s “Forever,” and Usher’s “Love In This Club.” Polow’s production diversity is reflected in his contributions: “Not Myself Tonight” is a fairly straightforward club track, “Woohoo” features playfully percussive beats and some solid rapping from Nicki Minaj, and “I Hate Boys” is a shuffle-beat stomper that sounds like it could have come from Dr. Luke.

And therein lies the downside of 2/3rds of the album: while catchy and propulsive, it’s pretty derivative. A concern expressed by others about this record has been that it tries too hard to ride the current electro-pop wave led by one L. Gaga. Now I for one am not complaining about this. Aguilera is a bloody awesome performer and has the musical knowledge to work with the real deal in this genre. It adds further legitimacy to this kind of electronic music.

My bigger complaint is with the album’s middle third, which grinds the whole show to a halt for 6 slow, cleanly produced ballads. For Aguilera this is musically conservative territory, as the bubblegum beats, clean pianos, and orchestral crescendos serve to focus the listener on her voice, and what a voice it is! It would be garden variety diva fodder were it not for Aguilera’s lyrics. Since hooking up with Linda Perry in the early 2000s, Christina has set herself apart from her peers by combining her personal confessions with affirmations that connect her to her viewers. On “Sex For Breakfast,” Aguilera sings about fi-yi-yine slow jam sex in the morning, but focuses on her own sex drive and sexual satisfaction. If another singer of Aguilera’s stature, say, a Beyonce, were to sing this kind of song, it would more likely focus on pleasing the male partner.  Meanwhile on “All I Need,” which rides this neat minimal ¾ waltz, Christina sings a love song that’s worded ambiguously enough that one could make the case that, assuming it’s true, could be about her husband or her son.

That’s the cool thing about Christina: she comes across as very multifaceted. She’s a strong, hardworking musician, a parent, and a sex symbol, and she performs all of these roles on Bionic, often at the same time, while still connecting with her audience. Not even Eminem can claim that. She proclaims that yes, you can be a person of both style and substance, dammit, and that investing in one should not have to compromise another. Madonna may have the longevity, and Gaga may have the innovation, but it’s Christina who comes out complete regardless of reinvention.

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DJ On A Dime: Down With The Slickness

June 16, 2010

The oil spill along the gulf coast continues to go on unabated and the Prez seems paralyzed and saying the wrong things to please the wrong people, but at the same time he’s loaded with additional baggage none of his predecessors have had to carryRemember: this problem is British Petroleum’s fault. And I really feel bad for a lot of the BP employees because those gas station associates, truck drivers and middle managers are probably standing in for all of that anger and confusion that a lot of people have been feeling and have taken a lot of heat that they probably don’t deserve just because they took a job when it was available and stuff hit the fan.

I apologize for the rant.

Still, despite this craptacular environmental situation there’s free music out there, dammit, and you should check it out! This is DJ on a Dime.

Let’s kick things off with some chilled out alternative hip-hop. Amazon has a free b-side from Phashara, who hails from the Lake View area of Chicago. “Sunshine” has Phashara waxing contemplative over some rich, psyched out beats. The song feels really down to Earth and is great for when you’re feeling introspective or just want to kick back.

Keeping going on the hip-hop tip, Travis McCoy of Gym Class Heroes has a solo record out now. The single “Billionaire” is making waves on the radio, and Nappy Boy’s remix of the track takes it into a mellow reggae territory. Plus it features Bruno Mars on the chorus, and his soulful turn on B.o.B.’s “Nothin’ On You” was just beautiful! Some Kind of Awesome has the Travie song up for grabs. Check out the original for a more bouncy party rock take.

Some Kind of Awesome also has the new track “Tiger” from TV On The Radio alum Dave Sitek’s new project Maximum Ballon. I just found out about Some Kind of Awesome on the blogosphere. According to the site bio, the people who run it met on Kenna message boards, so there’s a great mix of rock, hip-hop and electronic posts and news. Anyways, “Tiger” is very tight in its production, the guitars have this fast-strum quality that reminds me of a 70s cop show, and vocalist Aku fronts very nicely with some old-school metallic crooning.

Finally, for some harder action, check out the Tobacco remix of HEALTH’s “Die Slowly.” Pick it up at XLR8R, one of the last remaining hip-hop/electronic music magazines to run in the U.S.! The remix sounds like some alternative rock song from 1993 thrown into a blender with “Safety Dance” and some chunks of titanium. The end result is almost hip-hop with the crunchy beats and spaced-out synthesizers. Bang your head to this one!

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33 Non-Rock Songs I’d Like To See In Rock Band 3: Part 1

June 15, 2010

 

With all the news about Rock Band 3 coming out, the big thing for me was the confirmation of keyboards as the 5th instrument. I think this opens up the door for the series to go into new genres it had previously left untouched and possibly attract new audiences. The series has already departed from a strictly rock soundtrack before, having featured a whole track pack devoted to country music, as well as some DLC from acts like Earth Wind & Fire, The Chemical Brothers, and Lady Gaga. I would love to play some hip-hop, R&B, funk, disco, dance, electronic, and pop music right alongside the rock and country. With Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock reaching back into that series’ classic rock and metal roots, Rock Band needs to position itself either through Rock Band 3 or through DLC as a multiplayer music game platform for people who like all kinds of music. Here is the first third of a working list of 33 songs that I feel could really expand the series’ audience.

The full list is after the jump:

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Crazy Circuitry

June 14, 2010

 

Janelle Monae – The Archandroid

What makes a good concept album for me is that the album’s individual songs should be able to stand on their own apart from the whole. I feel this way because even if the album’s central story is some weird, sprawling, half-baked idea, I still get to hear some great tunes. Lots of great rock songs from “Another Brick In The Wall” to “Pinball Wizard” to “American Idiot” came from concept albums and went on to great commercial success as classic/alternative staples. However, I have trouble thinking of concept albums outside the rock genre other than Mike Ladd’s Infesticons hip-hop trilogy (which just concluded) and that Imelda Marcos disco musical David Byrne and Fatboy Slim wrote. Enter the Monae.

Janelle Monae is an up-and-coming R&B singer with a story to tell on The Archandroid. It is definitely a weird, sprawling story to rival those great rock operas: time travel, cloning, secret societies, Monae having an android pop star descendant in the 22nd century who will save humanity from said evil secret society (hence the title), and Monae in the present being a mental patient having delusions about the whole story. It’s actually a continuation from her first EP Metropolis: The Chase Suite. While the sci-fi and insanity themes have been touched on before by singers like Kelis and Macy Gray, they have never been approached with the grand scope and musical range as on this album.

The Archandroid has a very maximalist feel to it. You can see Monae’s commitment to her universe before pressing play by looking at the album cover: the Metropolis artwork, the Bioshock fonts, the liner notes listing the inspirations for each song (including Stevie Wonder, Prince, Muhammad Ali’s fists, and glow of Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber), and a multiparagraph synopsis written from the perspective of another character in the story.

And the songs? Oh, they more than match the mood. It’s a credit to the artistic vision and talent of Monae and her production team that they made an album with such stylistic variety from song to song and the whole thing still holds together like it’s sci-fi Grease. One thing I didn’t realize until about halfway into my first listen is how flexible Monae is with her vocal styles. The first time you hear her voice on “Dance Or Die” she isn’t singing or cooing or belting, she is rapping with a staccato flow like how Busta Rhymes used to do it in the late 90s. But a few minutes in, the music doubles in time to a rocking Motown number and she’s suddenly singing in a breezy alto on “Faster.” Monae’s singing ranges from Tina Turner scream to Simon & Garfunkel choral whisper, and she even goes into full-on GLaDOS mode on “Wondaland.”

My initial favorite songs on the album were the more upbeat numbers on the album’s first suite, especially “Cold War” and “Tightrope” both of which recall Outkast with their southern-fried paisley-funk backing, and “Come Alive,” where Monae throws all her cards on the table in a rockabilly asylum dance party. The slow-burners on the second suite take a bit more getting used to, as they have sparser instrumentation and Monae’s performances are much cleaner and restrained. However, after re-reading the liner notes and listening closer to the lyrics I came to the conclusion that the second suite is performed by Monae’s Sasha Fierce android-clone Cindi Mayweather. Since these songs are supposed to be performed by a sleek, bionic messiah in a cold, dystopian future, it kind of makes sense that the music feels sad, haunted, and hopeful. It’s a big contrast from the urgency and loony playfulness of the first suite, but that’s what makes the album’s concept – the progression of a story.

Overall The Archandroid is a damn good record, concept or not. There are some hot singles and potential hits for the casual listeners and there’s a neat album progression and nerdy sci-fi theme for the more attentive listeners. Here’s hoping this album sells a boatload so we can get more of this in popular R&B.

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